Tag Archives: Gaslight

Dark Deeds Come To Light


Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham, Monday 30th September, 2019


This new production of Patrick Hamilton’s classic thriller impresses from the start with an imposing set designed by William Dudley.  The perspective is so forced the ceiling looms large over proceedings and the sense of claustrophobia is almost palpable.  The box set is augmented by judicious use of gauzes so we can see who is eavesdropping outside the room or going up and down the staircases, and there are video projections, also by Dudley, that give us a view into the uppermost room and, more importantly, the mindset of our heroine, Bella.

Written in 1939, the play has given its name to a form of systematic psychological abuse, and Hamilton gives us a textbook example here as Jack Manningham uses every trick in the book to send his wife around the twist.  From the off, Bella (Charlotte Emmerson) is tightly wound and Jack plays her like a fiddle.  James Wiley is perfectly villainous as the domineering, manipulative husband, while Emmerson, increasingly unhinged, quickly gains our sympathy and keeps it.

There is strong supporting character work from Mary Chater as Elizabeth, and Georgia Clarke-Day as Nancy, two maids of the household, contrasting nicely with each other; but the piece centres around a star turn from the mighty Martin Shaw as Rough, a detective with an Oirish accent.  Shaw’s Rough is humorous and yet authoritative, a charmer who takes control – a Professional, if you will!

Mic Pool’s sound design adds eeriness and the all-important lighting, by Chris Davey, creates a suitably murky atmosphere for the dastardly goings-on.  Director Lucy Bailey wrings suspense out of moments of silence, and the action builds to a rather lurid climax in which we see the villain’s ultimate fate.

Even if you’ve seen the play the before, this high-quality production shows there is still plenty of mileage in the material.  Gripping, amusing and thrilling, Gaslight deserves a glowing review!


Nice bit of Rough: Martin Shaw


Old Flames


New Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham, Tuesday 10th January, 2017


Written in 1938, Patrick Hamilton’s taut thriller is a pastiche of Victorian melodrama: an innocent girl is persecuted by an evil man but the intervention of a hero saves her from doom and thwarts the evil-doer’s plot…

Kara Tointon is a picture of innocence as the vulnerable Bella, believing herself to be going around the twist.  She is child-like, infantilised by her hubby who manipulates her every mood.  Tointon endears herself to us, keeping on the right side of pathetic and making the heightened dialogue sound natural.  As her bullying husband, Jack, Rupert Young domineers, exuding evil.  What begins as a study in mental cruelty swiftly becomes something even darker as the true nature of the man Bella married is brought to light.

It’s not all darkness: the unexpected arrival of Bella’s saviour in the form of former detective Rough (Keith Allen) brings humour and more than a touch of levity to proceedings.  Of course, this accentuates the moments of tension and suspense by contrast. Rough is a breath of fresh air to Bella’s stuffy, shut-in existence, and Allen plays him with relish in a funny and yet compelling portrayal.  There is also humour in the roles of the maidservants.  Charlotte Blackledge’s Nancy is cheeky to the point of impudence, while Helen Anderson’s Elizabeth is a masterclass in comic playing, doing so much with a simple “Yes, Miss” or “No, Miss”.  Wonderful stuff.

David Woodhead’s set design is to be savoured, capturing the oppression of Bella’s existence with a looming ceiling and dark panelling.  The set is enhanced by Howard Hudson’s lighting, which renders the action almost sepia at times, like the fading portraits on the walls, and, of course, the all-important gaslight that is so crucial to the plot. The sound design, by Ben and Max Ringham, augments the tension with dissonance, while Anthony Banks’s direction winds up the suspense like a watch spring.  Banks reins in the melodramatic excesses to keep the behaviour credible for a modern audience and this high-quality production proves this creaky old drama still has power to thrill.

You can tell it’s working when the villain is booed during his curtain call!


Kara Tointon (Photo: Manuel Harlan)

Dim and Dimmer


New Vic Theatre, Newcastle under Lyme, Friday 20th September, 2013


Patrick Hamilton’s taut thriller is set in the Victorian home of Mr and Mrs Manningham, shown here in a detailed set by designer Michael Holt – a collection of furniture, potted plants and props that evoke the period perfectly.  Hamilton uses some of the features of Victorian melodrama in his tale but director Sarah Punshon does not overplay them.  We have a villain, who sports a black top hat and cloak – he even has facial hair, a sure sign of villainy according to the convention, but Brendan Hughes’s Manningham stops short of twirling his moustache.  The victim is his neurotic wife Bella, an excellent Alix Dunmore who pitches the poor woman’s fragility just right; we never get the sense that she has a choice, that she should stand up to her bullying monster of a husband, such is the credibility she brings to the role.

There is music too, as you’d expect in a melodrama, but James Earl-Davis’s sound design keeps it subtle.  Atonal notes play on an almost subliminal level, cranking the tension.  The effect is very chilling.

There is strong support from Joanna Bacon and Hannah Lee as the housemaids, one fretful, the other chirpy, again bringing truth to character parts.  The whole tone of the piece is utterly believable, thanks to the performance style and also in no small part to the venue itself.  In-the-round means that the audience is not only the fourth wall of the Manninghams’ living room but the first, second and third walls as well.  This permits an intimacy and a naturalistic approach even to the more sensational aspects of the plot and dialogue.

John Cording’s Ex-Detective Rough almost steals the show, generating warmth and a quiet urgency as he makes his moves to solve an old case.  The scenes between him and Alix Dunmore are superbly done, as he entrances her (and us) with exposition of the crime and convinces her to go along with his plan to bring a murderer to justice.

Brendan Hughes is also pitch-perfect, bringing nuance to what could easily be a two-dimensional role.  We almost fall for his manipulations at the start and we see the power he has over his vulnerable wife.  That the melodramatic aspects are subdued makes him a more chilling baddie and his machinations more plausible psychologically.  I was interested to read in the programme that Manningham’s method of mental abuse has been given the name ‘gaslighting’ after this play.

An absorbing production of a thriller that actually thrills, Gaslight stands the test of time, serving as a reminder of the genius of this too-often overlooked playwright.